To be economically viable, a fusion reactor’s components must be able to survive for long periods in a very challenging environment. A fusion power plant will impose a unique combination of high temperature, bombardment by fast neutrons from fusion reactions, and severe mechanical stresses. Using suitable materials will also ensure that nuclear waste from fusion is as short-lived as possible.
Developing optimum reactor materials is therefore a high priority for fusion research. Options being considered include special steels and more advanced materials, such as silicon carbide composites and lithium-based tritium generating materials.
Example of MRF material preparation and testing – on the tip of a drawing pin.
In collaboration with university specialists and European colleagues, Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is working on several important aspects of materials research. These include computer simulations of atomic behaviour and experimental work on candidate materials in the JET and MAST Upgrade tokamaks, which will lead to a better understanding of materials properties and lifetimes.
CCFE’s work now benefits from the recently-opened Materials Research Facility, built by the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Culham to test and analyse the characteristics of microscopic samples of metals, alloys and composites. Part of the National Nuclear User Facility and the Henry Royce Institute, it is used by academic researchers and industrial partners interested in how to develop both fusion and nuclear fission reactors of the future.